The primary elections in Barnes County carried an additional layer of weight thanks to a dust-up within the District 24 Republicans that saw Dwight Kiefert lose his party’s endorsement – and win his primary all the same.
“You never know how elections are going to come out and there wasn’t really a high turnout,” Kiefert said. “I’m happy, I guess. We got to control our seat yet.”
Granted, it was a close race. Challenger Phil Kleymann lost by less-than-100 votes. And both men lagged behind Cole Christensen, who never seemed to lose his luster with the public or his party.
“I honestly think it’s the parents speaking and voting that they appreciate being recognized as the primary stakeholders over their child’s future, because this is the year of the parents,” Christensen said. “Somebody who is willing to stand up and defend their rights and listen to their concerns and actually do something about it, I think that resonated with hundreds of parents who are concerned with either what’s going on in our nation or even our local district.”
More than just talk, Christensen had a voting record that supported his message.
“It came down to the parents and them recognizing that when I say I’m going to do something, I’m actually going to do it,” he said.
For Kiefert, now that the primary has given him the edge, he sees a relatively easy path to victory in November – and then he sees a need for housekeeping in District 24.
“It’s not going to be too hard of an election this fall, I don’t think. But what our district needs to do is get educated with what’s happening with this libertarian movement. When I go to Bismarck I go there to represent the people of my district and do the best I can for them,” Kiefert said. “That’s the difference between me and them, I want to represent my people from my district … and when those guys get down there, they have no regards for the people, they just want to further their agenda.”
Christensen was left thoughtful about the outcome – he and Kleymann had been running mates, both endorsed, both heavily invested in messaging. Yet he moved forward and Kleymann would not.
“We worked hard. It was interesting to see – Phil and I did everything together and to see the vote difference between us,” Christensen said. “I know it’s not because we didn’t get out and work for it. We hit over 5,000 doors on the ground between Phil and I and all our volunteers. We spent money on billboards ... there must just be enough loyalty between some of the voters and Representative Kiefert and I’m not blaming anybody for that. A lot of the people I talked to liked Phil, but that doesn’t mean that’d translate over into a vote.”
This election is made all the more unusual by the question of its necessity at all. There will be another election for these same seats in two years, and all of this due to a redistricting issue that Christensen had sought to see resolved before it came down to this.
“While Wayne Stenjhem was still in office as Attorney General there was a letter on his desk asking him to investigate whether or not we really needed to have an election in District 24,” Christensen said. “I’d just as soon avoid an election altogether. In my mind it’s pointless, to try to go through spending thousands of dollars and donating hours of time doorknocking when we have bigger fish to fry in my opinion.”
Nevertheless, another election is in the cards, and Christensen said he thinks a second go around may be better for Kleymann, who’ll enjoy increased name recognition, especially given how close the race was.
With the primary settled, Christensen also looks ahead to November, where Kiefert and he will face the lone Democrat candidate, who passed her primary unopposed, Kaitlyn Huss.
“I have not talked with the Democrat candidate. I’ve heard from people who have talked with her that she’s a very nice lady,” Christensen said. “I don’t know of any other people who are running other than her. I’m not going to say it’s a slam-dunk victory, because nothing is guaranteed.”
The current results are still “unofficial” and it’ll be some time before the official and complete counts are available.
2,220 total ballots were cast; of those, 1,588 were Republican and 497 were Democrat. Kiefert got 846 votes; Christensen got 1,027 and Kleymann got 748. Huss took 463 votes.
School Board Election
Among the more crowded races this year, the School Board had two seats up for contention, vied for by five candidates across a wide assortment of backgrounds, and while some challengers – in particular Katie Woehl, who teaches at Valley City State University – came close, in the end it was incumbent Darin Anderson and appointed school board member and Valley City Police Chief Phil Hatcher who remained on the board, for a second and first full term respectively.
“I’m just excited, I’m excited to represent the voters in the district on the school board for the next three years,” Anderson said. I would attribute both Phil and my re-election to the fact that in general the voters think that our district is doing a good job educating our children and we’re doing a good job representing the interests of the district.”
Hatcher considered his thoughtful approach to the nuanced challenges of education to be part of what got him the votes.
“I would attribute success to just getting out there and having a good message,” Hatcher said. “A message of being able to listen to both sides and try to come up with a good solution in the middle.”
In the end, Anderson got the most votes with 722 while Hatcher was close behind with 697, out of a total of 1204 cast ballots. Woehl had a respectable 561 and at the bottom of the stack came Damian Johnston with 173 and Tony Puckett with 135.
With this many candidates, it was a race filled with at times fiery rhetoric and criticisms of the school board, both before and during the race; from issues of gender identity to pandemic safety, there was a lot of political energy injected into the race, which Hatcher spoke critically about, saying that there was some “intolerance” expressed in this race.
“I’ve learned that there’s no room for politics in school boards,” Hatcher said. “I kind of heard that one resoundingly. It doesn’t mean you have to be in the middle of the road, it doesn’t mean that you have to be opinionated on one side or the other, but … on the school board level, some things are your personal views and shouldn’t be reflected in the school board view.”
Hatcher is looking forward to focusing on the myriad issues facing the district; both he and Anderson are aware of the challenges and mounting difficulty of new school buildings for the district, one of the key issues this election.
“I still saw comments about how we’re trying to push the school and that’s not really the right way of looking at it,” Anderson said. “Our job is to bring the information to the voters and the voters would ultimately decide that. But we’re kind of at a standstill because of the price tag on it.”
Hatcher has identified a number of issues, along with the school construction matter.
“I think goal-wise we need to still keep looking to the future as far as buildings or renovations, what we can do with what resources we have,” Hatcher said. “Other than that … I believe our enrollment is starting to trickle down, is there anything we can be doing? Are we losing students, are we losing families? Just trying to keep going, I’ve spent the first year drinking from a firehose as the mayor says sometimes … so just now being able to maybe slow down and concentrate on a few of those items.”
Of course, with the resignation of board member Natalie Wintch, an interim board member will needs be appointed and there’ll be another election to fill the seat for a full term in about a year. Applications – or letters of intent – are still being accepted by the Valley City Public School District and will be for another four or five days. Any interested parties can submit them to the Central Administration Building.
John Hoeven received 1,230 votes, beating Republican challenger Riley Kuntz, who got just 293 in Barnes County.
Katrina Christiansen will be challenging Hoeven as the Democrat nominee, earning 382 votes in the county.
Michael Howe beat Marvin Lepp for Republican Secretary of State 932 votes to 396.
Vicky Lovell will face Ron Manson in the general, the two separated only by 41 votes.
Randy McClaflin got 1533 votes over challenger for Sheriff Wade Hannig, who took home 582.